5/31/2009 12:34 AM
By MIKE GELLATLY, Staff writer
Living next to a super-secret federal facility involved in cutting-edge government research means one thing - aliens!
Well, UFOs at least.
Though the Savannah River Site has never been said to be a Southeastern, or more humid, version of Area 51, Aiken County and the CSRA has been a hotbed of UFO sightings for as long as the bomb plant has been around.
More than 50 years ago, The Aiken Standard and Review had reports of fighter jets being scrambled to investigate and see-off "flying saucers." But rumors of unidentified flying objects persist in the area, including a documented account earlier this year.
Air Force Intelligence reports from the same year, 1952, although at different times, show two more officially recorded sightings of flying objects that cannot be identified.
The first incident happened May 10, 1952, around 11 p.m. Four individuals saw four disc-shaped objects come from the south over the DuPont Savannah River Project where they were working. After these possible little green men-carriers left, another single saucer came back flying very low to the ground.
Lt. Colonel Leo K. Johnson reported the incident and concluded that no action was taken by Special Investigations.
A few months later, on July 28, U.S. Air Command in Washington, D.C., scrambled F-94 jets when "glowing white lights" were spotted over Aiken.
However, the Air Force did not think anything in the UFO had the capacity to fly or even phone home.
"No pattern which would indicate the objects are being controlled by a reasoning body" was detected by investigators. However, being a sensitive area, "The Air Defense Command... is vitally interested in anything unidentified that flies in the air," a spokesperson said.
The official record of such objects continues with another sighting by people who were working to build the bomb plant.
On Nov. 24 of the same year, Air Force Intelligence reported two heavy equipment operators who claim to have seen "a glaring red fireball" that left no trail or emitted any sound. The report notes the pair were "probably untrained observers."
Jumping forward to the 21st century, very similar reports continue to surface.
This year on March 20, a fireball and loud noise was reported in Aiken. It was said to have been a meteor, but some did not accept the explanation. Two weeks before that, a group of adults claim to have heard something very similar but reported seeing a submarine-shaped object.
Since the beginning of 2008, one website has eight separate reports of UFOs in the Aiken/Augusta area.
Is there an explanation? Does SRS have Roswell-style weather balloons or experimental aircraft?
"There's never been a UFO sighting at the Site that we know of," SRS Spokesperson Jim Guisti said. "The only thing that has occurred in recent years was an unidentified military aircraft just after 9/11."
Technically, the Savannah River Site was not in operation when the intelligence reports were made; it was still under construction.
So is there a massive government cover-up? Or are there reasons for aircrafts to be around SRS?
"We have two helicopters on site; we've had DOE aircrafts flying over, military aircrafts flying over us, landing on us," Guisti said. "It's part of the normal routine; some during the day, some at night. Nothing unusual for a federal facility."
It is possible that some sightings, at least, are unexpected aircrafts doing their duties at SRS.
But with more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth, who is to say that visitors from beyond aren't stopping by to see how things are progressing in H-Canyon or simply to see 35 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste is kept so close to a river?
Contact Mike Gellatly at email@example.com.